Parker Michaels begins his NHL Season Preview series in reverse to first order according to his projected standings. Be sure to bookmark our Season Previews home base here where links to all 31 teams will appear as they’re posted. First up at No. 31, the Montreal Canadiens.
The Montreal Canadiens are the most decorated team in the history of the NHL with 24 Stanley Cup championships, including a league-leading ten titles since the Original Six expansion in the 1967-68 season, but the storied franchise has not hoisted Lord Stanley in over 25 years now since their 1993 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
That ‘93 Canadiens team was led by several stars, including John LeClair, Eric Desjardins, Kirk Muller, Vincent Damphousse and, of course, goaltender and Conn Smythe winner Patrick Roy. They also had a great leader in captain Guy Carbonneau who helped control a locker room of big personalities.
Over the past few years Montreal appeared to be constructing a similar roster with a MVP goaltender in Carey Price, a Norris Trophy winning defenseman with P.K. Subban and a regular producing 30+ goal scorer in team captain Max Pacioretty. Enter General Manager Marc Bergevin who decided to take it upon himself to instill a “winning culture” by apparently trying to police the big personalities in the locker room – from the press box.
Fan-favorite Subban and his over-the-top (yet entertaining) on-ice antics was dealt two summers ago for older and slower defenseman Shea Weber in what will be remembered as one of the worst trades in franchise history (irrespective of Weber’s injury troubles). Last summer, blue-chip prospect defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was traded to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin who was expected to become the number one centerman and solve their issues down the middle, despite being a winger who had trouble breaking into the league before finally having one somewhat successful season. That trade may end up becoming even worse in hindsight.
Record: 29-40-13 (71 points), 6th in Atlantic Division, 28th Overall
Playoffs: Missed by 26 points
The on-ice result of those moves did not pan out this past season as Weber was limited to just 26 games due to injury while Drouin struggled to get comfortable in the top centerman role and scored just 13 times while adding 33 assists – quite short numbers for a first line center. The team’s offense was a disaster for most of the season, combining to score just 209 goals (2.55 per game) and ranking 29th in the league overall. The usually reliable 30+ goal scorer in Pacioretty played a big part in the poor offensive numbers as he scored just 17 goals in 64 games played, his lowest per game rate since 2009-10 when he was an NHL sophomore.
Defensively, the team was equally lost as the group finished 27th overall allowing 264 goals (3.22 per game). Along with missing their most experienced and talented blueliner in Weber, Montreal was also without the services of their starting goaltender for almost half the season as Price was limited to 49 games due to a lower body injury and a concussion. However, even when healthy, Price seemed like a former shell of himself as he posted the worst numbers of his career (even accounting for a terrible defense in front of him). Price allowed over three goals per game for the first time in his 11-years in the NHL with a 3.11 goals-against average while also recording a career-low .900 save percentage. In the advanced stats category, Price was visibly even worse as he registered a -17.49 GSAA*, ranking him 64th out of 69 qualified goaltenders. It should be noted, however, that it was reported Price had suffered from Chronic Fatigue at the beginning of the season, so this no doubt influenced his poor results.
The brightest spot in an otherwise dark season was right wing Brendan Gallagher who put up team and career-highs with 31 goals and 54 points. The Canadiens have a fine piece for the future in the 25-year old but there were not enough young players who played up to their potential on the roster last year.
*GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average) – An advanced stat metric created at hockey-reference.com. Like any advanced stat, GSAA has its flaws, but does an excellent job of equalizing goaltender performance across the league and, in my opinion, aligns much better with actual on-ice performance and results than the GSAA found at Corsica.hockey. Of the past 17 Vezina winners dating back to the 2000-01 season, 12 winners have been the leader in hockey-reference GSAA at the end of the regular season and finished second in three other years.
Per the hockey-reference definition, GSAA is “the goals this goalie prevented given his save percentage and shots faced vs. the league average save percentage on the same number of shots. Min. 4 shots faced per team game needed to qualify.”
Bergevin was at it again this summer when he pulled the trigger on yet another questionable trade. Bergevin had soured on once promising center prospect, Alex Galchenyuk (who only scored 30 goals in 2015-16 when he was given a shot at being the number one center) and was finally able to finish running him out of town in a trade to Arizona for underwhelming winger Max Domi (who scored just nine goals last season which four were into an empty net). Three consecutive summers, three potential cornerstone pieces dealt for what seems like no other reason than personal prejudice and which did not even return a single player who could fill the team’s top need – a true centerman.
Bergevin continued his dismantling of the franchise from within as a messy situation with Pacioretty became even messier.
The 29-year old captain will enter the final year of his contract and has been involved in trade rumors since last December. The Canadiens would hate to lose him for nothing next spring but Pacioretty had previously expressed his desire to remain a Canadien for life so there was initially hope of a possible extension being reached. That desire may have soured, however, when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Bergevin had struck a deal over the weekend of the NHL Entry Draft in June with the Los Angeles Kings. That deal involved an extension being signed with LA which Pacioretty had not signed off on and the deal fell through, with the Canadiens upset over the situation, as well as Pacioretty who in turn changed agents.
In July, Bergevin announced there would be no further contract extension talks and a trade would continue to be pursued. It is a difficult spot for the team as the winger is coming off a down season which likely hurt his value but if all the speculation is correct, Pacioretty will be dealt sometime between now and the end of February’s trade deadline.
Owner Geoff Molson and Bergevin talked about the abundance of dollars available on the salary cap heading into the summer and their willingness to max out the cap space for the upcoming season but as of mid-August the team still had just over $7.8 million of free space with no big names added. Outside of the big trade, Bergevin’s only acquisitions were depth forwards Joel Armia and Matthew Peca, the return of 35-year old veteran, Tomas Plekanec, along with young defenseman Xavier Ouellet who may not even be good enough to crack their almost league-worst blueline.
In addition to Galchenyuk, notable departures this summer included 26-year old Daniel Carr who the team seemed to finally give up on and let him go in free agency (signed with Vegas) as after three seasons the left winger never blossomed into the goal scorer they had hoped with just 14 total goals over 94 NHL games.
Stanley Cup: +10000 (Bookmaker, 5Dimes)
Eastern Conference: +5000 (Bookmaker, 5Dimes)
Atlantic Division: +7500 (Bookmaker)
Regular Season Points: 80.5 (-110) (Bookmaker), 80.5 (-115) (Bovada, MyBookie)
Make Playoffs: YES +300, NO -400 (Sportsbook.ag)
Current Odds as of August 27, 2018
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
*Predicting depth charts is often called a fool’s errand and can be as difficult as predicting where a team will finish in the standings. Nonetheless, I decided to undertake this impossible task and am confident (as one can possibly be doing this task, anyway) with the below information heading into training camp. All attempts will be made to update these charts once camp is underway and head coaches change their mind a thousand times.
*Individual Player Ratings involve the base formula created by Justin Kubatko at hockey-reference.com. An explanation of how I use his methods can be found here with a more detailed methodology by Kubatko himself, here
*Salaries in green denote entry-level contract
NHL RANK: 31
I am a big believer in depth down the middle being the key ingredient to building a successful team and winning a championship, so I was not surprised when I had Montreal projected as the worst team in the NHL to also see them project with the league’s worst center depth.
The Canadiens are still without a true number one centerman, so it appears Jonathan Drouin will get another look in the top spot. Bergevin admitted himself, in January, that Drouin was probably a better option on the wing, but it was not possible given their current situation. That situation has not improved since, despite drafting Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the 3rd overall pick in June’s entry draft. Kotkaniemi just turned 18 in July and while he projects to eventually be a top-six center in the NHL, could still use a year or two in his development. Ideally, he will return to Finland to play another season with Ässät in the Liiga league where his father is the head coach. Kotkaniemi will attend training camp in September though and as Bergevin has stated, the current situation is not good, so do not completely rule out the Finnish product being thrust into a too-early role with the team. In what all likelihood appears to be a throwaway season for Montreal, fans should hope they don’t see Kotkaniemi on this side of the ocean come November after he’s had his nine-game audition to begin the season. [Players on an entry-level contract can only play in a maximum of nine games with their NHL team before a decision needs to be made on whether to return the player to the AHL or junior hockey club. Once the tenth game is reached, their entry-level contract is reduced by one full year, regardless how many more games they play that season]
Phillip Danault had a breakout season in 2016-17 when he scored 13 goals and 40 points, but his 2017-18 season was cut short when a neck injury sidelined him for the final month. Danault still recorded eight goals and 25 points in 52 games which was the same 0.5 points-per-game scoring rate as the previous season. Danault changed up his summer training to involve more core work through Pilates and his conditioning is reportedly much better. While it is possible we might see him slide up to the top line to allow Drouin to play on the wing, expectations are he will begin the season as the number two centerman, for now.
The bottom-six should be straightforward, at least in terms of who the players will be. Tomas Plekanec returns after being dealt to Toronto at the trade deadline as a rental and will fill either the third or fourth line spot (depending how long Kotkaniemi remains). Plekanec is 35 now though and obviously not the same 40-60 point producer he once was so would probably be better suited on the fourth line. That will likely depend on the play by free agent acquisition Matthew Peca who could see himself move up the depth chart as the season moves on. Peca is a strong playmaker who exceled in the AHL and acquitted himself well on the third line in Tampa Bay last year in a small ten game sample. Again, depending on Kotkaniemi’s stay, Peca is expected to battle with Jacob de la Rose for the fourth line spot but Bergevin is on record stating he expects Peca to play in Montreal this season. Look for Peca to come out ahead there with de la Rose most likely slotting in as the 13th forward. If Peca has a strong camp he might even get that bump to the third line which is what fans should be hoping.
NHL RANK: 26
Newcomer Max Domi has a lot of expectations on him as the return piece in the Galchenyuk trade. Domi had a very successful rookie season scoring 18 goals but has only managed to equal that output over the past two combined seasons. He is still young at just 23 though so the Canadiens are banking on the hope he still has some development left to come, along with the potential chemistry which could be reignited with former linemate and good friend, Drouin. The pair played together back in 2012 and won a gold medal for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
The biggest question mark entering training camp is undoubtedly the Max Pacioretty situation and whether he will still actually be on the roster come opening night. It was rumored earlier this month that Pacioretty may not even attend camp but Montreal reporter Renaud Lavoie quickly put an end to that speculation with a clear no. Pacioretty is fully healed from a knee injury which cost him the final month of the season so from a value stance, Bergevin’s best interest might be to hold off on a move to maximize the return. Pacioretty played over 363 minutes with Danault as his centerman last season compared to just 269 alongside Drouin, so it should not be assumed Patches will start on the top line. I will pencil him in on the second line here until a trade materializes.
The third line spot should also be locked in with Artturi Lehkonen who is coming off a disappointing season. Lehkonen scored 18 goals and 28 points in 73 games during his 2016-17 rookie season but regressed last year with just 12 and 21 in 66 games, although he did manage to score seven times over his final 14 games. His shot totals actually increased though and if one looks at his shot maps it would seem his 7.3% shooting percentage may have been unlucky. Lehkonen should be in store for a bounce back year with 20+ goals, especially if he is paired with the playmaking Peca or up on the second line with Danault once Pacioretty is traded.
The fourth line spot likely belongs to Nicolas Deslauriers, especially with Daniel Carr no longer around. He brings that grit factor which so many coaches love to have and with not a lot of it to go around in this lineup, he will be relied upon to fill the role while adding a bit on pop on the scoreboard. Plus, he is already a fan favorite for his awesome goal celebrations.
NHL RANK: 24
Brendan Gallagher is without a doubt atop the depth chart here on right wing after scoring 11 more goals then the next best Canadien last year (Byron, 20) and leading the team with 54 points (three more than Galchenyuk). It is a steep drop off after Gallagher, but this is where some injuries come into play.
Paul Byron can slot in on either side and spent time everywhere from the fourth line where he opened the season to alongside Drouin and Gallagher on the left side of the top line near the end of the year. He scored 20 goals for the second consecutive season despite playing through a nagging shoulder problem most of the way. Byron underwent surgery mid-April with a six-month recovery timeline which puts his return around mid-October, meaning he will likely miss all of training camp and the opening of the season, but his return will be welcomed as he will be the third best winger on the team behind Pacioretty (if still here) and Gallagher. Where he will fit upon his return will remain to be seen with the Canadiens having a logjam on the wings and several players who are no longer waiver-exempt (meaning they will have to pass through waivers before being assigned to the AHL) so at least one player will eventually become vulnerable (sorry, Michael McCarron).
The regular number two right wing is also expected to begin the season on the shelf as Andrew Shaw recovers from a concussion and knee injury which cut his season short at 51 games in March. After undergoing successful knee surgery late April, Shaw was given a minimum of six months to recover which puts his timeline the end of October, at the earliest.
In the meantime, the second line spot should be filled by either Charles Hudon or Nikita Scherbak. Hudon is listed as a left wing on the Canadiens official roster but his main usage last year came on the right side for multiple lines. With Byron and Shaw out of the lineup, Hudon likely becomes the next guy up on this side although Scherbak might have the more upside if he can crack the lineup. Scherbak was a 2014 first-round draft pick by Montreal and showed flashes of being a dynamic offensive player during his 26 games last season. He had a big year in limited AHL action with 1.15 points per game and that was after missing six weeks due to knee surgery. Scherbak is also one of the wingers who would be required to pass through waivers before being returned to Laval so count on him filling a spot on the right side somewhere as Montreal would be foolish to risk losing such a strong prospect for nothing (packaging him in a deal with Pacioretty or on his own is also an option here).
Fourth line duties likely fall to newly acquired Joel Armia although this spot could also be affected by how long Kotkaniemi remains with the team. The fellow Finnish Armia was an idol of Kotkaniemi when he grew up so it is possible they could find themselves on a line together at some point during camp so maybe Hudon and Armia flip spots in that scenario. Armia is a shorthanded weapon, evidenced by his multiple shorthanded goals over the past two seasons, and will help the Canadiens 30th ranked penalty kill unit. Peca could also slide over into this spot if Kotkaniemi takes one of the center spots in camp.
NHL RANK: 31
It was rookie Victor Mete who really stole the show for Montreal last season, earning an unexpected spot out of training camp and keeping it right until a fractured finger sidelined him for the final month of the season. Mete played in 49 games with the Canadiens (sandwiched around a gold medal with Canada at the World Juniors in December) and showed a good hockey IQ with his strong puck-moving abilities. He looked every bit the part of a top-four NHL defenseman and could be the leading choice to anchor the top pair heading into this season. The only drawback for Mete is the fact he is one of the few players still waiver-exempt which plays against him here. Since Mete can be freely moved between the AHL and NHL, the Canadiens may be forced to send him down for a bit, rather than risk losing a guy like Reilly. Since he is probably the most talented player of the options on this side, I will pencil him in the top pair, for now, but by no means is he locked into this spot.
Karl Alzner began last season on the second pair with Jeff Petry as a stay-at-home defender who would balance Petry’s speed and ability to play up the ice. They were an effective pairing who complemented each other well but after the injury to Weber and Petry’s promotion, Alzner finished the season alongside prospect Noah Juulsen and while they had their moments, seemed to struggle with puck possession. Alzner and Juulsen became the second most common defensive pairing for Montreal last year so the expectation is they will begin the season together with Weber once again out of action. Alzner is no longer a dominant defender in his own end (some would argue he never really was, but I digress) so there is going to be a lot of pressure on the rookie to keep this pair afloat. Unfortunately, the Canadiens do not have many other strong options right now (I wonder how Mikhail Sergachev would look in this depth chart, but again I digress).
The third pair is the biggest question mark here as there are as many as six left-handers who could realistically emerge from camp with this spot. David Schlemko is probably the top choice although this could be a revolving door position for the Habs all season. There were higher expectations last summer when the Canadiens acquired Schlemko in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights (who had selected him in the expansion draft the day prior) but a hand injury sidelined him in training camp and after he reinjured that same hand, his season never did get on track as he appeared in just 37 games, recording just one goal and four assists. Schlemko’s $2.1 million salary probably nets him the first crack though.
The other top option in this spot is Mike Reilly. After being acquired at the trade deadline from Minnesota, Reilly logged over 20 minutes a night and contributed eight assists in 19 games, showing off his offensive skills. His 20:12 per game usage ended up being the third highest on the team behind Weber (25:21) and Petry (23:30). Reilly’s play leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end, but his offensive upside should give him the edge in taking over this spot at some point in the season. Something else to keep in mind with Reilly, is he played quite a bit alongside Petry down the stretch and the pair performed well together. It would not be surprising to see him jump all the way to the top pair to begin the season, especially since he cannot be sent to the AHL without going through waivers first. If Montreal does not resolve their logjam by then, Mete may be forced down to Laval out of necessity.
Others who will get a long look in camp are Xavier Ouellet who was squeezed out of playing time in Detroit and signed here as a free agent. Rinat Valiev, acquired at the trade deadline when Plekanec was dealt to Toronto but suffered a lower-body injury and did not get much of a look and Simon Despres, whose career has been sidetracked by injury for the most part but will enter camp on a PTO after establishing himself as a somewhat decent option last year in the KHL. It is going to be difficult for any of these players to crack the opening night roster.
NHL RANK: 25
With a fully recovered Shea Weber and the emerging play by Jeff Petry, the Canadiens had hopes of the right side becoming a strength again for this upcoming season. Weber admitted he had played on a fractured foot for over two months before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair tendons. The recovery timeline was set at 5-6 months and everyone was hopeful he would return in time for camp near one hundred percent.
Those hopes were dashed, however, when it was revealed early July that this was not the only procedure Weber had undergone. The Canadiens announced their top blueliner had knee surgery about two weeks earlier to repair a meniscal tear in which he would need an added 5-6 months of recovery. Weber is now expected to be sidelined until early December.
That means Petry will once again assume top pair duties and the team will hope last year’s breakout season was more than a mirage. Petry had a career year with 12 goals, 30 assists and 42 total points while playing in all 82 games, which was a nice bump from his 8-20-28 stat line the year prior (also a career-high, at the time). The offensive explosion can be mainly explained thanks to the major increase in top-unit powerplay time where he registered 23 of his 42 points. Petry has measured out well in advanced stats areas over the past few seasons with a strong ability of both driving offense and suppressing shots in his own end so even if those powerplay numbers take a bit of a hit this year (reasonable to expect after losing a weapon like Galchenyuk who had nine PP markers), Petry should still be a very valuable contributor.
The only other natural right-handed defender with potential to crack the roster is Noah Juulsen (unless you want to count prospect Brett Lernout whose development stagnated last year and is likely destined for an AHL spot). The 21-year old will not be handed the position just by default either, as his impressive 23-game audition at the end of last season should easily earn him a full-time role. Juulsen could have made the roster last season if not for a broken foot sustained during camp which kept him out several months. The rookie has a strong, physical defensive game and good size at 6’3, 190lbs and is not shy to clear the front of the net. I already have him rated as Montreal’s third-best defenseman behind Weber and Petry and think Habs fans should really enjoy watching him in action.
The third spot on this side is also a bit trickier to project considering there are zero other right-handed defenders available on the current roster. I will pencil in Jordie Benn as of today since he is probably the most versatile of the remaining candidates and has filled this role before, although this is also likely to be a bit of a rotating slot until Weber returns and pushes Petry and Juulsen down a spot.
NHL RANK: T-24
(Starter – 14th, Backup – 56th)
Arguably the biggest factor in how well Montreal does this season is whether starting goaltender Carey Price bounces back from a career-worst year. Price started last season 3-7-1 with an .877 save percentage before being sidelined with a lower-body injury for the next ten games. Upon returning from the injury, Price went 11-10-3 over the next 24 contests with a respectable .916 save percentage, carrying the team into the All-Star break. Around that time, the former Hart and Vezina trophy winner let it be known he had seen a nutritionist outside of the organization in November and a simple bloodwork test revealed a vitamin deficiency which had caused Chronic Fatigue to begin the season. It provided a reason for the poor start and why he was maybe better upon his return. The troubling part is why no one in the Montreal organization was able to catch this themselves?
Price suffered a concussion in February which kept him out for another 14 games before returning to finish the final three weeks of the season. By then, the Canadiens had lost Pacioretty and Mete to season-ending injuries and the team was not competitive on most nights so Price’s 1-4-1 record with an .874 save percentage over the final stretch can probably also be taken with a grain of salt to end what was an overall nightmare season.
One should expect better numbers from a now fully healthy Price but with almost the identical team in front of him, it is hard to project just how much better. I still believe he is one of the best goaltenders in the world but even the best need help from the defense in front of them and Montreal comes up well short in that area. Price projects as the 14th best goaltender in my personal rankings which is a huge leap over where he finished last season. He would be even higher if I had him getting more starts but goaltending coach Stephane Waite said in July he expects Price to play between 50-60 games.
As a team, I have the Canadiens ranked in a tie for just the 24th best overall goaltending in the league which is probably a big surprise with a name like Price at the top, but their expected backup Antti Niemi is a huge reason for the steep drop. Niemi started last season in Pittsburgh with the Penguins and gave up 16 goals in three starts before being waived. He moved on to Florida where the Panthers needed a body after the injury to Roberto Luongo and allowed five goals over 59 minutes in two relief appearances. After being placed on waivers again, Montreal surprisingly claimed the veteran to the chagrin of their fans. Equally surprising, Niemi performed well over the course of 19 games with the Canadiens, going 7-5-4 with an outstanding .929 save percentage.
Honestly, it is hard to explain why Niemi did so well during his time with Montreal. He is a career .913 guy, but owned a save percentage of just .896 over the past two and a half seasons between Dallas, Pittsburgh and Florida and certainly does not have any better of a defense in front of him here. Niemi will turn 35 later this month and one simply cannot project him to put up anything near his .929 mark from the end of last year. He ranks as the 56th overall goaltender out of 62 preseason projections on my list and I expect at some point of the season we will see Charlie Lindgren called up to take over the backup role full-time, who reportedly has had a fantastic summer with his conditioning. Lindgren, of course, will get a chance to compete for the spot outright in training camp but as another player who is waivers-exempt and can be freely moved between the AHL and Montreal, expect Niemi to start the season as the number two.
Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi
I tossed a few names around here as I do not believe there is just any one player who is going to dictate how Montreal’s fortunes play out this season. Carey Price was the first name to cross my mind but if he remains healthy I think it is easier to project his performance. I debated back and forth on Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi and ultimately decided each player is going to be of great importance. They will likely be tied together on the same line, so each other’s success should be largely dependent on the other. The other common thread is the player Bergevin traded this summer – Alex Galchenyuk.
The Canadiens traded a potential number one centerman after insisting he was uncapable of playing the position and placed their faith in Drouin to fill that role moving forward. His development will be key to back up the opinion of the Montreal executives who made that decision.
After a 53-point season in 73 games two years ago in Tampa Bay, Drouin struggled in his first season with the Canadiens with just 46 in 77 games. His goals decreased from 21 to 13 which was a direct result of his total shots on goal falling from 183 to 164 and his shooting percentage from 11.5% to 7.9%. The overall numbers were disappointing, but I am willing to give Drouin a pass for his season since center was mostly a new position for him and he was getting used to a new system and teammates. A similar season this year, however, would have to be viewed as a great disappointment but even a return to his career 9.4% shooting should see his goal totals increase. Drouin should also be mostly playing with a better playmaker this season with Domi on his left side, so I would expect his shots on goal to also improve. A projection in the 55-60 point range would be fair for Drouin but I think for this season to meet expectations, he will need to hit the 25 goal mark and 60+ points. His chances of hitting those numbers are low which is mostly why he projects as the lowest rated first line center in the league.
Domi’s development is also going to be closely scrutinized since he was traded straight up for Galchenyuk in a one-for-one deal (apologies to Oilers fans who are triggered each time they hear those three little words, “1-for-1”). In Domi’s three pro NHL seasons, his points per game have been 0.64, 0.64 and 0.55 while his shots on goal per game and shooting percentage have regressed each season. Montreal is banking on the fact Domi still has room to grow at just 22 years old and it is quite possible a change of scenery and reunion with a former junior linemate will produce numbers more in line with his rookie season (52 points, 156 SOG, 11.5 S%). No matter what Domi produces, he will no doubt be directly compared to the numbers Galchenyuk posts in Arizona, however unfair that might be.
Like Drouin, we may have already seen the peak of what Domi can achieve. If both players were to revert to their career-high seasons (Drouin – 21 goals, 53 points) (Domi – 18 goals, 52 points) would that even be considered a win for a number one line offense in the NHL?
Both Drouin and Domi are going to have to post career seasons just to be considered a success and that is why they are Montreal’s x-factor.
I have Montreal projected at 69.3 points, a last place finish in the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and overall of all 31 NHL teams this season which is probably a surprise to most. I must add, my projection does account for about a half a season of Shea Weber who is expected back in December (but is not a guarantee) and for the return of Paul Byron early in the season. I still have Montreal in this spot.
Late last week, several offshore sportsbooks released their regular season point totals and Montreal was listed at 80.5 points across the board. Based on where they sit in the Stanley Cup Futures market (anywhere from 23rd to 27th overall) I was expecting a total in the 80-85-point range, so this was not a surprise. This would seem to set up nicely for an under bet.
However, despite the low projection, I typically do not like to bet the under on low totals since there is not much room for error. Even slight improvement from just a few players can drastically alter the final result like we saw with the Devils and Avalanche last year and the Maple Leafs and Oilers the year prior.
The Canadiens core is still very young with four of their projected top six forwards and eight of 12 being 25 years old or younger. If players like Danault, Lehkonen, Scherbak, Mete and Juulsen take significant strides forward, Drouin and Domi find instant chemistry together and Pacioretty sticks around and finds his goal scoring touch again, the Canadiens could end up destroying this projection. And that is excluding what Carey Price could theoretically still add. While I have him projected at a significant bounce back rate, as I mentioned above, it is possible he plays even better as we know his ceiling might be that of the best goaltender in the world.
That would be asking for a perfect storm though and some kind of crazy voodoo magic on the part of a diehard Habs fan out there. In the end, I expect we will see positive development from a few of the mentioned players, Drouin and Domi will be better than last year but not as good as their previous highs and Carey Price will be better with a return to good health – but nowhere near the top of the league. Where that leaves the team in the standings remains to be seen but a final point total in the 70s seems most likely.
That should still leave room for error to go under the current number and would be the recommended bet here. My final list of over/under point totals will not be released until September but Montreal under 80.5 seems as safe as any to go ahead and lock in now. Even with a bit of movement, it should still likely make my final list as a best bet.
Salary numbers from capfriendly.com, stats from hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com